Former Governor of Abia State and eminent businessman, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, was recently in the South East for a short vacation. While there, the business mogul spoke to newsmen on various national issues.
President Muhamadu Buhari’s government will be clocking one year in a matter of days, what’s your assessment of the administration?
Well, I think for President Muhamadu Buhari, it is so far, so good, considering the crisis in the economy, the oil industry, the Boko Haram some of which I heard from international intelligence agencies, have transformed to Fulani herdsmen,the crisis with kidnappers and indeed the general internal strife. I will say it is so far, so good. We will continue to give him the necessary support. The problem we have is that Nigerians are too much in a hurry.
A country that has gone through what Nigeria went through in the recent past, I think one year is not enough to assess and begin to see the administration on a very positive side. I believe Buhari has all it takes to move this country forward, but we need to have patience.
People criticise President Buhari for travelling too much, no, what he is doing is the right thing to do. It is absolutely what a good president should be doing at this time. I believe that he does more
economic diplomacy, which is what I call what he is doing now unless his economic and political advisers are not taking advantage of these travels. The body of ministers,body of advisers, policy planners and indeed the National Assembly should take advantage of the president’s economic diplomacy. So, it is a mistake for people to say that the president is travelling too much because no president can be an island.
He is making contacts and finding new friends for Nigeria. The world is facing a serious economic problem just like Nigeria. It is just that we have no economy in the first place; if we’ve had an organised economy, Nigeria would have been in deep recession now.
In a nutshell, possibly those who are speaking don’t know economic and international diplomacy. The president’s travels have started yielding dividends for the country though the overall benefits would come in the next one or two years.
So, I believe it’s so far, so good for the Buhari administration. What he needs is the support of all Nigerians.
Some Nigerians, including the Prelate of the Methodist Church said they fared better under the last administration than now, how do you situate that?
I cannot argue with the Prelate of the Methodist Church and I cannot also agree with him on this issue, but it depends on where one is coming from. The truth remains that this country has been living a false life.
The change Buhari is bringing in is not the type of change that will come on a platter, it’s not the kind of change people would want to see, it is not the kind of change that will bring the Naira at par with the dollar overnight because the five fingers are not equal. The change Buhari is bringing is to realistically address the issue of the common man, which will not come easy, going by the level of decay in the society.
Maybe, many people will say in the last one year, their food is not done or something like that, but such people should also know there could have been total economic collapse but for Buhari’s coming to power.
The fuel crisis was on before Buhari came to power. The removal of the fuel subsidy, which was long overdue was meant for us to tighten our belts and realistically pursue our economic policy.
Nigeria’s problem is not political. The Prelate of Methodist Church is one of the honest preachers around. I’m sure he is saying the feeling of our people, which is realistic. But the question is that, is it going to solve our problems? The answer is
What is going to solve our problems is not sentiment; it is getting back to the job and if it is so, then the man (Buhari) is on the right track.
The president has been accused of being selective in his fight against corruption, do you agree with that?
He is not selective at all. People should not expect him to pick on those who were not in power and had nothing to do with our commonwealth. It is those who were entrusted with our money he is calling to come and give account of what they did with the money. So, he is not selective.
I sincerely believe that if people abuse their offices, they should be punished thoroughly, not looking at who is involved. I have always said it even before President Buhari that he should not have two sets of rules but one and if he maintains that, he is not going to be in problem with anybody. Mind you, the European and North American countries have a lot of belief in his attitude to fighting corruption;they have not disapproved that and it’s high rating for him.
I don’t know what Nigerians think, but he has high rating from the international community in his ability to genuinely clean the cobwebs in the four corners of the house and I think this is what he is doing.
People might be saying it was the same Buhari, who wanted to lock everybody up, you cannot leave people who genuinely stole Nigeria’s money. Some people they said stole money, did not steal any money. Within me, when I look at myself, my conscience tells me I did not break any law, but the matter is in the court of law. I believe sincerely that Buhari cannot lock anybody up in prison that did not do anything. What will he gain from it? He also knows that this is
democracy and not military rule; so, he is applying due process in his fight against corruption.
He should not fight corruption the way former President Olusegun Obasanjo did, when you have seen me spend security vote and you are after me on that to settle personal scores. You pursue people for not supporting your inordinate ambition and policies, it is wrong. I appeal to President Buhari not to get involved in that kind of corruption-fighting and I am happy he has appointed someone who has lesser belief in material things, as acting chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). I am saying this because when all these people say they are fighting corruption,they don’t really fight corruption. You know I don’t fear anybody; I’m not even
afraid of dying today and not afraid of not saying the truth. I believe we should be able to come out realistically, measure who came into office and what he came with. You see someone who lived in Ajegunle or Kute areas of Lagos, six months down the line, he is made a minister or made anything, he will buy a big house in Queens Drive and Asokoro and Nigerians don’t ask them where they got all this money overnight. I’ve been in business for over 30 years of my life. People just see me today, but they don’t see the process of my growth. I think Nigerians should start being realistic. This is one of the most unserious countries; sometimes people who live in it don’t seem to look as if they are serious. People should be serious and stand and speak the truth.
The level of sycophancy in this country is so much. I’m very happy that Buhari is a man that has no time to sit with sycophants, who have killed most of our leaders. Even former President Goodluck Jonathan could have done very well. His problem was people around him, telling him lies against some other people; they are there. So, for any president to survive, he should remove himself from local
gossips. Would you imagine someone going to a president to say that someone like me has anything to do with drugs or stuff like that because the person thought with that, the president would have problems with me? Can you imagine, a former president of this country, putting me into EFCC to be tried?
Somebody who financed the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1998 when nobody, including the man, who said I should be tried had no money; somebody who brought most of the money they used in forming the party? It’s unheard of; it’s only in Africa that can happen.
They said I’m a thief when people that had no N20, 000 when we formed this political party, PDP,are billionaires today; they are not thieves. Nobody is asking them where they acquired billions and the mansions they are building all over. It’s only in Nigeria this kind of thing can happen.
What do you think are the challenges, facing the Buhari administration?
I sincerely believe that the challenges before President Buhari is, one; he needs to think seriously about Fulani herdsmen; he should sit down with members of his cabinet and fashion out ways of dealing
with this issue. I heard the other day that people were killed in Enugu, they are Igbo and we cannot continue being beaten every day. Igbo nation has suffered a lot for this country and we should have a
break from killing us; if anything happens anywhere, they kill us, it’s not right. I totally disagree with people,who think it is right; it is not right. It is not good to treat the Igbo this way. This was how the problems in Somalia, Afghanistan and other areas started; they started just like a joke and look at where they are today.
We should nip them in the bud. It is not good to live with problems every time. We are just solving the problem of Boko Haram, we are having that of the Fulani herdsmen, and we have problems of kidnapping and others. I expect President Buhari as the General he is, to stand up and address those issues. If I were President Buhari, I would make three agenda for myself – fighting corruption, internal security and electricity. After all these, if I’m unable to achieve any other thing, I can close shop and people will applaud me because Nigerians need two things most: In the economy they need prosperity; in the church, they need salvation.
Some of those being investigated of corruption are pointing fingers at former President Goodluck Jonathan of approving of their actions; could it be expedient for the EFCC to invite the former number one citizen for questioning?
Yes, if fingers are pointing at Jonathan, nobody is above the law. It is just in Nigeria that presidents are made to look as if they are above the law. If Jonathan has committed any offence, they should bring him and try him according to the laws of the country.
Nobody owns the country. When I see some of my Igbo brothers say we don’t own the country, I laugh because we are part and parcel of this country. I don’t feel in any way, as a second class citizen because my people, the Igbo are part and parcel of this country; we are trustees of the dream, we are part of the dream.
Coming back to your question, former President Jonathan is my personal friend, but if he has committed any offence, he should be tried. If fingers are pointed at him, there should be no need for any hide and seek game, they should bring him and ask him questions, it is the right thing to do because the society should be strengthened by the rules of the law.
You are a big time player in the oil and gas industry, now that there is a slush in that section, how are you coping?
Well, we are having a very bad experience in the oil and gas industry; all our vessels are not working.
We have heavily invested in the oil and gas sector. At the risk of not sounding immodest, we have nine vessels,four PSVs (platform supply vessels) and six security and crew vessels. Because of the policies of the past National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), which sidelined the NOGIC Act of 2010, which said that local vessels should be given preference in lifting of the nation’s oil, to foreign vessel, the reverse was the case with the past NAPIMS management because of some pecuniary reasons. But I’m told the present management is looking into that positively.
Most of the foreign vessels are working in Nigeria and they are corruptly leaving local content vessels financed by Nigerian banks, carrying Nigerian flags in preference to these foreign vessels. In the last six years, nobody gave me a long term contract in the shipping business because we are local content companies. For the fact that we employ Nigerians, we should have been considered first. We are flying Nigerian flag, employing Nigerians, in fact, doing everything Nigerian company should do, but the NAPIMS in the past refused to give us contracts directly;they gave contracts to those who had no vessels. They gave contracts to people, who went to China and Singapore to hire vessels that did not comply with our local content.
The past government did all these and I believe President Buhari must look into all these things. I learnt that the present NAPIMS executives are trying to readdress these issues because most Nigerians that own vessels have gone bankrupt since the past three years. The jobs the past NAPIMS executives would give to vessels that are owned by Nigerians,they give them to foreign vessels and collect commission from their owners.
There is this issue of Biafra; people like you are being looked upon to mediate between the Federal Government and the agitators particularly IPOB whose leader is being detained. What’s your reaction?
The issue of Biafra is a very big one in Nigeria today. Some of us are waiting for the president’s mind to calm down and I will appeal to him to personally release Nnamdi Kanu to me and I’m sure the president will listen to me when I finish marshalling out my reasons. These are young boys, they have the right to ask for Biafra, but the problem is the process.
People have committed more offences than what Nnamdi did but they were pardoned;so, I’m still going to appeal to the president, we will have a common ground very soon. Let’s see what will happen between now and the end of the year. This issue should not be rushed, the president should not be pressurised; we are talking to him informally. We are talking to the president through the international community,we are talking to him through African presidents and we are talking to him through personal friends. He is going to listen, Buhari is not as hard as people think and he has a heart that flows with milk.
So, let us get the right core. I will make application if they will allow me to see Nnamdi Kanu in prison very soon and I will like to talk to him and I know he will listen to me. Nobody is saying anybody cannot talk about Biafra, you can talk about any other republic but you should not take Nigeria for granted; it’s a sovereign nation and we’ve all sworn to keep the country together. But if I should have my way, we should be talking of a bigger Nigeria. The economic benefit of being together is very strong but I think the reason for the agitation was the way past Federal Governments have left the South East’s infrastructures to be. Since after the war, the Federal Government has not made any investment in the entire SouthEast. But I believe the government under Buhari will do something to address this marginalisation.
Does it pain you, as an Igbo man that Lagos/Cabalar rail line captured in this year’s budget will not pass through any of the South East states?
No! No! No! There is no reason to tell you I’m not happy. It’s something that our lawmakers, ministers and people of goodwill should contact those that drew up the budget. I mean it is nothing; Aba is a commercial city, it’s a question of making a detour somewhere and the thing will get to Aba and may be two other places in the South East before getting to Calabar.
That is not why we should kill ourselves; that is where quality representation comes in so that those things will be put in the budget. It’s about relationship, it’s about discussion. It’s not about fighting; it’s not about saying it is injustice. Soon,people will because of this say Buhari hates Ndigbo, it is not true, after all, he was not the one that put the rail line project in the budget. From the way Buhari is going, I can tell you that Ndigbo will benefit from his government more than any other in this country.
Still on this rail line project, the other day, Prince B.B Apugo lambasted senators from South East, accusing them of poor quality representation. Do you agree with him?
Prince B.B Apugo is my leader and I cannot challenge what my leader said but I think the senators are putting in their best. Some of them are very experienced while others are not. Experience comes in here and I think the experienced ones should advise the inexperienced ones so that they will be able to do the job very well.
During the last Abia North rerun, your opponents never gave you any chance, were you surprised the extent you went?
You can’t say my opponents never gave me any chance because we won the election in 2011, we won it again in 2015, we won it again in 2016 but they continued doing what they know how to do better.
Like I keep on saying, I’m not lacking anything as a human being, but I’m into this game for a cause and surely we will get there. You know during the last election,they did not vote for party, they voted for Orji Uzor Kalu; it is like running an election in Nigeria. I can run in an election without party in Nigeria. I am one of the most popular candidates between the upper and middle class on one hand and the lower class on the other hand. I am very popular from Sahara Desert to Atlantic Ocean and I withstood everything they threw, you saw it. Although it is my right to be a senator and serve my people but I don’t see it as an end in itself because presently, I am not idle. I just want democracy to be re-positioned and have a
face. In fact, this is one of the areas I agree with President Buhari, who said before he leaves in 2023, he would make sure there will be no more rigging of election and I totally agree with him on that and will work with him hand in hand to see that it is implemented.
Your supporters are saying that your mandate was stolen, do you agree with them?
The mandate, I cannot say it is stolen or not; I leave that with the courts to interpret whether it was stolen or not. What I can tell you here is limited. We are already in a court that has jurisdiction to listen to this matter.
You are talking about Buhari running two terms in office when people believe you should contest the presidency in 2019?
No! No! I have not thought about that and I’m not even thinking about that. I am concerned presently of how to support Buhari to give Nigeria the best it requires.
What’s your advice to Nigerians?
My advice is that Nigerians should always be truthful and have patience with the Buhari administration. On the part of the Igbo, I’m praying to God to remove the ‘I know too much’ from them and give them love. They need to be given the heart to love one another than intelligence; they are too intelligent for my liking and they are too distrusting in liking their brothers. The Igbo should love one another. I am saying this because the Igbo are the trustees of the dream, they are the salt of the nation; they are everywhere in Nigeria. They should also love other Nigerians because it takes a good Christian to admit a good Muslim and the other Kalu way round.
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